In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.
Jim Porter, Jr., spent a lifetime promoting music in Little Rock. Along the way, he created social change as well.
A native of Little Rock, he graduated from Little Rock High School and the University of Arkansas. After college, Jim started out in the family businesses and tried to follow a “traditional” path that his father had paved for him. Working in sales and public relations, he became active doing volunteer work. Jim realized that the “traditional” path was not for him, and while working in the family businesses, he started bringing in top name entertainers, many of them black, to perform in Little Rock. He was not a singer, nor did he play any instrument, but his love for music and all things connected to music led him towards his calling as an agent/manager and promoter of musicians.
As a promoter of national artists and bands, Jim ran into southern racism and segregation. The Central High crisis in 1957 caused many black artists to refuse to come to Little Rock, fearful for their safety. Jim was forced to concentrate more on booking and managing local musicians through what was at the time Arkansas’ only full time booking and talent agency, Consolidated Talent Corporation (later to become Porter Entertainment). During his booking career from the late 50’s until his retirement in 2001, Jim placed talent across Arkansas (and even in Las Vegas) at clubs, hotels, restaurants, and private functions- anywhere that people needed entertainment.
Jim saw first hand the inequities of black musicians in Arkansas, the separate and very unequal accommodations, and the segregated venues. Never giving up promoting national artists, the 60’s led him and his co-investors to bring in such national names (mostly jazz artists) such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Woody Herman, the Four Freshman, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, Harry James and others.
In 1961, he was arrested for integrating a concert at Robinson Auditorium. A white man, he had entered the segregated balcony. Knowing the challenges of booking acts in a segregated house (indeed Duke Ellington would cancel his booking at Robinson), Porter had tried to get the facility to change its rules. It was 1966, when Louis Armstrong returned to Little Rock and played before an integrated house that the new rules were here to stay. In the early 1970s, he helped bring the musical Hair to Little Rock, with the specter of full nudity causing consternation to Robinson Auditorium and some of the citizenry.
Jim was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation Hall of Fame in 2006. He was appointed to the Martin Luther King Commission in 2005 and entered politics to serve as a member of the Pulaski County Quorum Court from 1998 until 2006.
Always an entrepreneur, Jim also started MusAd Recording Studio, where commercial jingles were produced and bands could record demo tapes. The Hot Air Balloon Theatre (in the old Center Theatre on Main Street) was the site for G-movies and live entertainment for kids. The Yellow Rocket, an arcade in the “Heights” is still remembered by now middle-aged adults who spent afternoons and weekends feeding money into the game machines and eating snacks. Jim wrote several books, hosted TV shows (“After Five” and “Scene Around”) featuring restaurants, bars, clubs and their patrons and employees. He was featured on a weekly radio show about dining and entertainment, and wrote “Scene Around” columns and a dining and entertainment guide for the Arkansas Democrat.